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Rose v. Port of New York Authority

Decided: July 7, 1972.

EDWARD J. ROSE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE PORT OF NEW YORK AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Mountain. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Mountain, J. Hall, J., concurs in result.

Mountain

Plaintiff, Edward J. Rose, brought suit for personal injuries resulting from an accident which occurred at the John F. Kennedy International Airport on March 30, 1966. His wife, Ruth P. Rose, was initially joined as co-plaintiff seeking consequential damages, but this claim was abandoned during trial. Rose claimed his injury was sustained when he walked into or was struck by an automatic glass door. Joined as defendants were The Port of New York Authority, which leased and operated the airport, The Stanley Works, which had manufactured the door and The Shaw Company, a distributor, which had sold the door to the Port Authority and had attended to its installation.

At the conclusion of the plaintiff's case each of the three defendants moved for an involuntary dismissal pursuant to R. 4:37-2(b). Since claims for contribution had been asserted as among the several defendants, the motions were held in abeyance until the close of all the testimony. R. 4:37-2(c). Neither the manufacturer nor the seller introduced any evidence; only the Port Authority offered proofs. At the conclusion of all the testimony, the court granted the motions to dismiss as to defendants, The Stanley Works (manufacturer) and The Shaw Company (seller). The judge reserved decision upon the motion of the Port Authority, and as to it allowed the case to go to the jury, which returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor in the amount of $12,000. Shortly thereafter the motion of the Port Authority was denied. It did not move for a new trial.

An appeal to the Appellate Division was taken by the Port Authority from plaintiff's judgment against it and cross-appeals were taken by plaintiff from the orders granting dismissal as to the manufacturer and seller. In an unreported opinion the Appellate Division reversed plaintiff's judgment against the Port Authority upon the ground that the latter's motion for involuntary dismissal should have been granted. It accordingly entered judgment of dismissal against the plaintiff and in favor of the Port Authority. The Appellate

Division also determined that plaintiff's cross-appeals against the manufacturer and the seller had been abandoned, having been neither briefed nor argued. Following the reversal of his judgment by the Appellate Division, plaintiff petitioned this Court for certification, which was granted. 59 N.J. 362 (1971).

The facts may be simply stated. Mr. and Mrs. Rose, returning frim a trip to Europe, arrived at Kennedy Airport at about 4:00 P.M. on March 30, 1966. After passing through Immigration and Customs, and as they were preparing to leave the terminal, Mr. Rose recalled that he had shipped a parcel by air freight. Upon inquiry he was informed by a TWA employee that this package was in another building to which he would be taken in a car to be furnished by the airline. He was instructed to leave the terminal by a side exit which gave upon a roadway and there to await the automobile which would pick him up. In so doing he first passed through an automatic glass door, proceeded a short distance along a carpeted runway and continued through a second, similar automatic door. Rose estimated that he waited about ten minutes beside the roadway without the promised car arriving. He then decided to go back into the terminal to make sure he had understood his instructions correctly. In returning he walked toward the door marked "Enter Here." As he came into close proximity with it, he was suddenly struck in the face and fell. A police officer found him crumpled on the mat before the door, dizzy but not unconscious. He was assisted to a first aid station, received medical treatment and then returned to his home in East Orange.

The issue upon which the trial court and the Appellate Division have disagreed is whether the Port Authority's motion, made at the conclusion of the plaintiff's case, should have been granted. "In the case of motions for involuntary dismissal, the test is, . . . whether 'the evidence, together with the legitimate inferences therefrom, could sustain a judgment in * * * favor' of the party opposing the motion,

i.e., if, accepting as true all the evidence which supports the position of the party defending against the motion and according him the benefit of all inferences which can reasonably and legitimately be deduced therefrom, reasonable minds could differ, the motion must be denied. (citing cases) The point is that the judicial function here is quite a mechanical one. The trial court is not concerned with the worth, nature or extent (beyond a scintilla) of the evidence, but only with its existence, viewed most favorably to the party opposing the motion." Dolson v. Anastasia, 55 N.J. 2, 5-6 (1969).

The Appellate Division assayed the evidence adduced by the plaintiff as being inadequate to meet this test in two respects: there was found to be no proof as to any actual malfunctioning of the door nor was there sufficient showing that the injury to the plaintiff was in fact caused by impact with the door. Stated in more abstract terms, it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence upon which to ground either a finding of negligence or of proximate cause.

We summarize plaintiff's proofs with these two points in mind. Mr. Rose testified that upon proceeding toward the terminal, as he approached the door he noticed the bright lights inside the building and "the next thing I knew my head was jarred back and I knew nothing at all after that." He had no "recollection of whether the door opened or closed or failed to open entirely prior to the blow." On cross-examination, however, he ...


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